Monday 18 April 2016

Obituary Corner

I had been going to write about the funeral today of Ronnie Corbett - of all people - who was a neighbour of mine.  But I think it's for the weekend, because I have just learned of the awful and untimely death at 48 of Prof David MacKay, whom I've had cause to laud on C@W more than once.

Read about his remarkable career here - a rather bare-bones summary, it has to be said.  Here's an extract: 
MacKay's contributions in machine learning and information theory include the development of Bayesian methods for neural networks, the rediscovery ... of low-density parity-check codes, and the invention of Dasher, a software application for communication especially popular with those who cannot use a traditional keyboard... In 2008 he completed a book on energy consumption and energy production without fossil fuels called Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. MacKay used £10,000 of his own money to publish the book, and the initial print run of 5,000 sold within days. Bill Gates ... called it "one of the best books on energy that has been written." (Source: Wiki)
And it was from there that he went on to be the Chief Scientist at DECC 2009-14.  Now you might reasonably imagine that doesn't speak too well for him: but quite the reverse - he was a lone voice of rationality in a morass of green-blob activist civil servants and half-brained politicians, and did his level best to show them the light, even breaking through sometimes with truths they just couldn't suppress.  Even though they proceeded to ignore them.  His work on showing that burning wood pellets for electricity generation can result in greater net CO2 emissions than coal-burning (the calculations are very complex) was revolutionary, and informs the debate that still has a long way to go before we finally stop the farce of pretending that industrial-scale biomass-burning is 'renewable'.

A great public man, as well as a very nice chap.



Mark In Mayenne said...

I read his book on sustainable energy without the hot air. Excellent. Free, too, to download.

rwendland said...

Yes, I was truly shocked when I heard of his death, within hours of it in this internet age. He was a great voice of rationality, and simply presented numeric analysis - admirably done given his deep mathematical knowledge.

He was also a great blogger. It was odd that I had not cottoned onto him having cancer earlier, as he had blogged all the details over the short 9 months since diagnosis in a 25+ chapter saga! What do you tell the children? being especially poignant - as he had a 1 and 4 year old. I admired his rant about the hospital's ridiculous heating system only 4 days before his death: Appendix Two - An Open Letter to the Directors of Addenbrookes

Electro-Kevin said...


Hopefully he leaves enough of an intellectual legacy to be used upon the eco-socialists.

Sometimes people's ideas become more influential after death.

dearieme said...

"the hospital's ridiculous heating system"

Addenbrooke's: in which position would you like to give birth?

My wife: with my head out the window, pease.

Anonymous said...

Has he joined Dr David Kelly yet - or shall we give it a few days for the tin foil hats....

rwendland said...

dearieme, glad your wife could see the humour at that stage.

Sorry I got the weblink wrong. Should have been: Appendix Two - An Open Letter to the Directors of Addenbrookes.

Electro-Kevin said...

Anon - If the then Govt had listened to Dr David Kelly instead of bullying him to his death then the world wouldn't be in the mess it is and we wouldn't need tin foil hats.

I suppose there is a similarity seeing as you mention it.

Both scientists were ignored on things that are patently obvious.

James Higham said...

They seem to be going down like flies of late.

dearieme said...

@rwendland: my wife says that giving birth is easy, it's being pregnant that's vile.

Timbo614 said...

This is so sad, I knew he was ill but didn't expect this so soon.

He IS a great and will be remembered I'm sure. Two books I have read influenced my energy thinking "Producing your own power" I read in 1974 and built some of it! and REWTHA. Only a few months back he was insulating under his floors, knowing the payback time was way outside his life expectancy.

Brilliant man. RIP.